Chicago/Near North

The Near North is the shop-and-awe center of Chicago. It's bounded by North Avenue to the north, the Chicago River to the west and south, and Lake Michigan to the east.

With a whirlwind rush of department stores, restaurants, and luxurious hotels, there's no better place to abuse your budget than the Near North and its celebrated Magnificent Mile.


Marina City

The Near North includes the neighborhoods of River North, full of art galleries, commercial lofts, and some tourist restaurants, nightclubs and bars; Streeterville and the Gold Coast, with expensive living for rich folks and many of the city's most impressive hotels; and the most prestigious shopping district in Chicago, the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue, which includes one of Chicago's most beloved landmarks, the Water Tower.

This area has been a part of Chicago from the beginning, when Fort Dearborn was built on the other side of the river in 1803 (and burned to the ground nine years later, establishing an unfortunate civic trend). But ever since the early 1920s, when bridges were built to draw shoppers away from State Street in the Loop, there has been too much to sell, too much awe to inspire, and not a minute to spare. That's why the Near North can be such a delight at a tourist's pace. The locals are in a hurry, but if you're not, the serene image of the old Water Tower or the resolutely quiet riverwalk can take on the feel of a private discovery, even with all of these people around.

That's not to say you can't have fun getting caught up in the hustle and bustle, of course. The sheer amount of shopping on Michigan Avenue cannot be overstated. The world's most elite fashion designers are represented here, and the rest wish they were. River North has many of the city's busiest (if not best) clubs, with a dense row on Rush Street. In the Near North, you'll find a few significant members of the Chicago skyline, including the John Hancock Center and Lake Point Tower, which stands alone to the east at the end of a new, steel-and-glass future-scape in south Streeterville; it makes for an impressive view from Lake Shore Drive, and serves as an entryway to one of the city's most popular tourist spots, Navy Pier, a great place for entertaining children and catching the breeze from Lake Michigan with an evening stroll or a turn on the 150-foot tall Ferris Wheel.

Get in

What's that island?

That is Goose Island, an oddity of downtown Chicago, from which Chicago's biggest craft brewery takes its name. Named after an early Irish immigrant community who supposedly raised geese as livestock, the island was formed when landowner and Mayor William Ogden oversaw the building of a canal around its east side. Throughout its history, the island was an industrial center, but in recent times it seemed its riverfront location and splendid downtown views would ensure its conversion to condominiums. That change was halted in 1990 when Mayor Daley backed its new status as a "Protected Manufacturing District."

By train

The CTA Red Line has stops near the entertainment in River North (Clark/Division) and the Magnificent Mile (Chicago, Grand).

The CTA Brown Line and Purple Line stop in the midst of the River North galleries (Chicago), and the Merchandise Mart has the next stop all to itself.

By bus

An intricate web of CTA bus lines serves the Near North, most converging upon the northern end of Michigan Avenue. Several express buses from other parts of the city serve Michigan Avenue, notably the 147 Outer Drive Express from the north side and 3 King Drive Express from the south side. Once you're here, though, you will find it better to cover the Magnificent Mile on foot.

By trolley

Free trolleys run from Navy Pier through the area seven days a week, year round, during the pier's open hours.

By car

Avoid driving to the Near North unless you have a very good reason for doing so. Streets are packed with taxis, confused tourists, desperate businessmen late for something or other, and even the occasional horse. Your knuckles don't need the strain.

Enlarged Magnificent Mile map


Along the Magnificent Mile is a one day and night itinerary that connects the Near North with the Loop for shopping, food, skyscrapers, parks, and amazing views of Chicago from high and low.

Outside the Museum of Contemporary Art


Centered between the Merchandise Mart and the Chicago Brown Line station, with a few galleries that stray closer to Old Town or Michigan Avenue, River North boasts the largest arts and design district in North America outside of Manhattan. Art galleries tend to be concentrated closer to Chicago Avenue, with more design galleries closer to the Merchandise Mart. The entire area is walkable and makes for fun browsing. Although everything on display is for sale, admission is almost always free, and visitors needn't fear gallery owners putting on the hard sell.

There is a free art gallery tour starting from the Starbucks under the Chicago Brown Line stop on Saturdays at 11AM. The tour usually visits four galleries and lasts about an hour and a half.

Navy Pier

For disabled visitors

The Grand station on the Red Line, the closest to Navy Pier, is not wheelchair accessible. But the Chicago station, the next stop north, is fully ADA-compliant. From the Chicago station, the #66 Chicago bus goes straight to Navy Pier.

Navy Pier
Tall Ship WINDY, Lake Michigan

A few Chicago restaurants have branches here. There's also a food court, and vendors along the dock during the summer. You're much better off making the short walk to one of the nearby restaurants off the pier, though — you'll save money and likely eat better. There's no cost for re-entry to Navy Pier, after all.

Among the restaurants, The Billy Goat and Charlie's Ale House serve beers that are brewed in-house. Try the dark beer from the Billy Goat or head down to the The Beer Garden to sample Chicago brewers Goose Island.

Shopping is in plentiful supply, although it's pretty much limited to tourist-souvenir Chicago kitsch type stuff.


Riverwalk near Tribune Tower

Horse-drawn carriages ply routes along the Magnificent Mile and through Streeterville, usually beginning around the Water Tower. (You might see police officers on horses as well.) While there are too many cars to establish the kind of atmosphere you might expect in, say, Central Park, you'll probably know whether the night calls for a carriage ride, and choose accordingly. Expect to pay about $35 for a half-hour tour. College students also roam the area with small yellow cabs attached to the backs of bicycles for a low-cost, low-point alternative.

Events & Festivals


Magnificent Mile

The Magnificent Mile

One of the most prestigious shopping streets in the world, this stretch of Michigan Avenue is home to massive department stores, wildly expensive boutiques, and larger-than-usual stores for national chains like The Gap, Banana Republic, and Crate & Barrel. Some retailers even have two or more branches here: one standing alone, and another in one of the department stores. This isn't the place to look for discounts, though. Remember, you're not shopping here because it's cheap — you're shopping here because it's the Magnificent Mile.

Other shops



Billy Goat Tavern

This is expensive territory — if you're on a tight budget, you're likely to be stuck with fast food. Most of the department stores on Michigan Ave have food courts.



Skyscraper reflections on the Trump Tower


Rush Street is probably the single best-known street for drinking and clubbing in Chicago. It's lined with late-night bars, both fashion-of-the-moment designer clubs and generic fake-Irish pubs. Rush Street branches off from State south of Elm and runs parallel to State from there, although the action is north of Chicago Avenue. There's also a similar densely-populated strip of late-night clubs on Division, between Clark and State. Be warned: the Rush Street bars are often referred to by locals as the "Viagra Triangle" for reasons that will become clear shortly after you arrive.


Again, this is expensive territory — nearly every tourist stays here, and the rates reflect that. If price is a concern, remember that this area is well-served by public transportation from every direction, including places where you can sleep a bit cheaper. On the other hand, if part of the vision for your vacation involves a luxurious hotel, this is definitely the place to be.



The Water Tower stands tall at dusk



Go next

Routes through Near North

North Lincoln Lincoln Park-Old Town  NW  SE  The Loop END
Rogers Park Lincoln Park-Old Town  N  S  The Loop Far Southeast Side

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, January 21, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.